Rasheeda Bhagat

The political circus over Sabarimala

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on January 07, 2019 Published on January 07, 2019

The Wall Progessive stand   -  THE HINDU

While the BJP is trying to get a toehold in Kerala, the Congress has done itself no good with its contradictory stand

An increasing number of people are opening their eyes and questioning the not so-easy-to-dismiss paradox involved in giving gender equity to Muslim women through the Triple Talaq Bill, but denying the right to all Hindu women to enter Sabarimala.

Saffron leaders, thinkers, ideologues are tying themselves up in knots trying to explain how the two issues are different.

On one hand, it is argued, is to free Muslim women from a tyrannical practice that can overnight turn a woman dependent on her husband’s financial and other support into a destitute. The other is a matter of tradition and deep-rooted religious faith. Agreed that if you strip the two issues down to the bone, they are different. The first is an atrocious and inhuman custom that makes mockery of what we still consider sacred in our country – the institution of marriage, and leaves women vulnerable to male whims.

On the other, it is argued that women of childrearing age cannot enter Sabarimala temple, because of Lord Ayyappa’s vow of celibacy. After all, there are thousands of temples allowing women to worship, so why should the court interfere in a belief sacred to Hindus, it is argued. A woman not being allowed inside a temple cannot be equated to a woman losing her home. Period!

Power equation

As always, when it comes to gender issues, these two matters also relate to the power equation loaded in favour of men. It is the men who lay down the rules, diktats, fatwas, or whatever, for the larger community to follow. But make no mistake that when any religious belief/custom is being discussed, hidden behind it is some political game or the other. In the Muslim community, the dice has always been loaded against the woman, whether it is purdah by force or conditioning, home-imposed (read male-imposed) curfew on women on myriad subjects ranging from working to making friends to social outings, etc. But is it much different when it comes to the majority community? You wonder when you see such dogged opposition and violence on issues such as women’s worship at Sabarimala. What is heartbreaking is to see the number of women opposing the Supreme Court order allowing all women access to this sacred temple.

In this background, the LDF government’s move to organise a 6.2-km women’s wall last week was a masterstroke, which once again showcased Kerala as a progressive State. In this “wall of protest” an estimated 50 lakh women came together to reiterate their right to worship at Sabarimala and protest against the violent assaults on women who had tried to do so after the apex court’s verdict.

The compulsions of power politics are such that a wide variety of tragi-comic games are being played over the court verdict. The BJP and other saffronites say “don’t mess with our deep religious beliefs”. Their cadres threw stones and attacked the female wall at a few places. For the BJP this is clearly a brilliant opportunity to make headway in a State where it is not even within sniffing distance of power anytime in the near future. Political power in Kerala has for long alternated between the Congress and its allies and the Left Front.

When you move to the Congress, its leadership in Delhi and Kerala think differently. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who stands for a secular, liberal India with gender equity, and lambasts the Modi government for doing the opposite, says personally he is in favour of gender equality and hence women’s worship at Sabrimala. However, he justified the Kerala Congress opposing this because it was “representing the emotions of people of Kerala.” Somebody has to tell him you can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hound!

Apparently, Sonia Gandhi prevented the Congress MPs from coming to the Lok Sabha wearing black armbands to protest against two women having entered the shrine, because the Congress is for gender equity. As the battle in 2019 will be between the BJP and the Congress, the BJP has dismissed the Kerala women’s wall saying that the Left represents a community of non-believers! As this political circus continues, sooner than later, the ban on younger women at Sabarimala is bound to gradually weaken.

“Where a man can enter, a woman can also go. What applies to a man, applies to a woman,” the Supreme Court bench said in its Sabarimala judgment. Not yet at least. After two women aided by the State police surreptitiously entered the inner temple and offered worship last week, the temple authorities, in sheer contempt of the apex court verdict, shut it down for “purification” rituals.

The drama continues…

Published on January 07, 2019
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